The Agility Ladder — Useful Tool or Waste of Time?

TAGS: athleticism, agility ladder, group training, change of direction, cj murphy, warm up, gpp

I’m going to tell you why the agility ladder sucks today: it doesn’t. But if you’ve been around the coaching field for a while, you’ve at some point heard that it is the worst thing you can do for an athlete's training and development.

"It doesn’t make them faster."

"It is a waste of time."

"It negatively affects their speed."

Blah, blah, blah. Sure, some coaches like them, even love them. I might love them, but not for the reasons most coaches use them.

Back to the haters for a minute, since it seems the internet is full of those. I’ve heard more times than I can count that agility ladders are not all they are cracked up to be, that they don’t fit into an elite athlete's program, that they don’t develop speed, and that they don’t develop change of direction skills. I’ve heard this from some pretty well-respected coaches.

I also read a meme the other day on the Instagrams that said:

“I find it curious how some within our profession are quick to criticize an exercise, evaluative tool, or method for what it cannot do rather than for what it does well. After all, people don’t criticize a hammer for not being able to cut wood, or a saw for not being able to drive a nail.”

—Brandon Marcello

I don’t know much about the guy who said that but it’s fucking genius. 

In this industry, and I’m sure in many others, haters abound. Charlatans run rampant. Everyone is a coach with an opinion. The internet made everyone an expert over the past 10 years, much more so the past three or four. As an example, I know a kid who is very well intentioned and knows dick all about real training but knows a shit ton about marketing. He is an up and comer in the industry because he knows how to get followers. He doesn’t know much about getting people strong, though — and he is putting out some nonsense about strength.

Janet, one of my older athletes using the ladder for GPP.
Janet, one of my older athletes using the ladder for GPP.

 

Anyway, the point is that if you ask 10 coaches how to do something, you’ll probably get 10 different answers. Depending on the subject, you might even get a few to agree. Let’s use the hated agility ladder as an example of something that gets bashed and called names that is actually an excellent tool when used well. I love the agility ladder for a few things that it does well, as Mr. Marcello said.

It is an awesome warm-up tool.

I’d rather carve my eyes out with a rusty butter knife than get on a treadmill or elliptical. I’m not crazy about dragging a sled sometimes and fuck the Prowler. Why? It’s BORING. You’ve gotta warm up though, right? The agility ladder is just the ticket. Bust it out, run through some:

  • Two-In/Two-Outs
  • High Knees
  • Hip Twisties
  • One-In/One-Outs
  • Lateral Bounds
  • And a few more

You’ll be pissing sweat in about five minutes. It’s fun, it’s low impact, and I’ll argue it improves your ability to move. If you are an elite level Olympic athlete, maybe it will, maybe it won’t. Chances are you are not one, and I am a fat old washed-up lifter, so it is just perfect for me.

You know what else it’s great for? Improving GPP.

In much the same way as I suggested for warming up, the agility ladder is great for improving GPP. Lifters, do you want a bigger total? I’m not promising that using the ladder will give you a bigger total, but I’ll bet if you are out of shape and locked up with shitty movement patterns, adding in 15-20 minutes of light conditioning on the ladder will at least help you move better and improve your GPP. Improved GPP usually leads to something positive, right?

And another thing: the ladder is AWESOME for group training. 

Why? It’s not BORING. It’s hard to adapt to, so it never stops being productive. People love being trained like athletes. If they love this stuff, doesn’t it make your job easier and more effective? Got a group of people to put through a GPP or MetCon circuit? Bust out a few ladderscones, and hurdles or medicine balls and make a bunch of stuff up. As long as they are moving, sweating, huffing and puffing, and SMILING, you are doing a good job.

agility ladder powermax

But wait, there’s more. The agility ladder might suck according to some, but here is another thing it is awesome for: improving athleticism in veal.

You mean veal, like the baby cows that live in a box with their heads stuck out? Yes, but not cows. We have a whole sub-generation of kids (aged 14-27 or so) that has never exercised a day in their lives. They haven’t got an ounce of visible or flex-able muscle, their nervous systems are poorly developed, they have slow reaction times, they duck if you throw a ball at them, and more often than not, they don’t ambulate well, never mind run well.

They’re human fucking veal. They’ve spent their whole lives in school, on the couch, or playing video games. Now, I’m not making fun of them. A lot of it isn’t their fault. They didn’t grow up like I did, or like many of you did. We went outside, we played sports, we built ramps and jumped our big wheels over them, we jumped our bikes over garbage cans, we hung off the back of buses in the snow, and “bumped” our way to school. You know, we were kids.

Growing up in the 70s was much different. I don’t blame these kids for the lack of fitness. They were not taught this, and for many, it was discouraged. I actually applaud them for getting their almost-adult asses into the gym to get fit. Toss an agility ladder on the floor and show them how to do a few sweet moves. Show them slow. Make them do it, then make them do it faster. You’ll see their athleticism improve pretty quickly.

Nope, they aren’t playing D1 hoop anytime soon, but they will be better, and isn’t that the point? I can go on for about an hour on more populations that the ladder is great for, like kids and boomers too, but I think you get the idea.

If you’re not using a ladder in your training, or with your clients can you think of one good reason why? Saying that you heard the agility ladder sucks isn’t one of them.

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